Can Geckos Recognize Themselves?

Self-consciousness is a very important element in the growth of empathy, which is an critical stage in the advancement of social intelligence

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Reptiles have extensive been viewed as to be dim-witted and chilly-blooded (in more ways than a single), but study is beginning to discover that they have an extraordinary collection of cognitive qualities. For case in point, a modern review of Tokay geckos, Gekko gecko, has found out that these lizards can distinguish their possess scent from that of other folks of their species, indicating they possess the ability to recognize themselves as distinctive from other folks, which is the initial action in the development of social intelligence. For this rationale, we believe that geckos may possibly be in a position to connect with some others of their have sort and hence, they may be more smart than we give them credit for.

Despite the fact that self-recognition is frequently believed of as a visual means, some animals, these types of as puppies, principally count on scent rather than sight. Other scent-oriented animals include things like reptiles: preceding work has revealed that lizards and snakes use their tongues to detect pheromones and a wide range of other chemical cues. For illustration, geckos, which are aggressive and territorial lizards, periodically quit whilst climbing by the branches to flick their tongues out to determine irrespective of whether potential rivals or partners may possibly be close by. More, some gecko species develop poop piles to mark their territory, suggesting a interaction function both aimed at conspecifics or as an anti-predatory function, or the two (i. e. ref). This habits is similar to that of quite a few mammals, which have chosen areas for defecation to communicate their presence. Based on this information and facts, just one may ponder: do geckos use pheromones for social interaction?

To solution this issue, a staff of scientists from the University of Bern investigated no matter whether tokay geckos can detect the pores and skin chemical substances that they by themselves generate, and no matter if they can distinguish concerning their very own chemical compounds and individuals of other geckos of the same intercourse.

To conduct these experiments, the scientists introduced their analyze geckos with cotton swabs rubbed in their possess odor, odors from other geckos, or management odors such as drinking water or peppermint. All trials were movie recorded for afterwards analysis. Soon after initially getting that the scented cotton swabs had been not very good to take in, the geckos settled down into detection mode: they stuck out their tongues both in the course of the odor on the swab or to the surrounding spot, which was their dwelling enclosure.

The scientists interpreted this conduct as a indication that the geckos detected the odor on the swab, then as opposed it to their individual odor on the partitions of their household enclosure.

“The geckos have to look at more commonly when confronted with the odor of yet another gecko, when compared to their individual odor”, defined guide creator, behavioral ecologist Birgit Szabo, a postdoctoral researcher at the College of Bern studying cognition and habits in reptiles. “This implies that they know their have odor.”

The crew also demonstrated that their research geckos detected and utilised the odors of their feces to distinguish themselves from other individuals. This review disclosed that geckos can distinguish their pores and skin and their poop odors from individuals of other geckos of the exact sex, suggesting that they may perhaps be able to converse socially working with chemical cues.

“Lizards and reptiles are usually observed as unsocial primitive animals”, Dr Szabo noticed. “We need to realize that reptiles are a lot more social and clever than we assumed.”

Reptiles, birds and mammals diverged from their past prevalent ancestor about 280 million decades back, so this review implies that some essential qualities, these as self-recognition, are either much more historic than initially realized or had been so adaptive that they arose a lot more than once.

“Reptiles, and particularly geckos, are ideally acceptable for investigating fundamental thoughts about the evolution of sociality”, said study co-creator, behavioral ecologist Eva Ringler, professor and head of the Division of Behavioral Ecology at the College of Bern.

“Within geckos, we can locate a huge array of social buildings and habitats. This makes it possible for us to investigate the interrelationships of cognition, communication and social dwelling in just a tiny taxonomic group – and make comparisons between these and other, much more distantly relevant teams of animals this sort of as mammals and birds.”


Birgit Szabo and Eva Ringler (2023). Geckos differentiate self from other utilizing both pores and skin and faecal chemical substances: evidence in the direction of self-recognition? Animal Cognition | doi:10.1007/s10071-023-01751-8

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